Tuesday August 14, 2018
By Lee Harris
Representative Ilhan Omar smiles while speaking during the Democratic
Farmer Labor (DFL) Party endorsement convention in Minneapolis, June 17,
Three progressive women lead Tuesday’s race to succeed Democratic Rep.
Keith Ellison – the first Muslim elected to Congress – in the primary
for Minnesota's 5th Congressional District, and each has achieved a
"first" of her own.
In the crowded Democratic primary, state senator Patricia Torres Ray,
the first Latina in the Minnesota Senate, is competing against former
Minnesota House representative Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the second
woman to serve as Minnesota House Speaker and the first woman to receive
a major party’s endorsement for governor in Minnesota.
And, on the heels of Rashida Tlaib's historic win in Michigan, another
Muslim American woman, freshman state representative Ilhan Omar, hopes
to score a victory, after making history herself when she was elected to
the state House in 2016, becoming the nation's first Somali-American
legislator. The three female frontrunners are also facing
Somali-American activist Jamal Abdulahi and former Republican Frank
Drake, who are viewed as long shots.
The frontrunners have split endorsements, though Omar has garnered the
support of progressive backers including Justice Democrats, MoveOn, and
Bernie Sanders outgrowth Our Revolution – the same grassroots social and
economic justice organizations that backed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,
who has herself campaigned for Omar.
The candidates are all progressive women considered likely to vote along
similar lines in office – all three support Medicare for All,
#AbolishICE, and leftwing economic proposals – and have consequently
struggled to differentiate themselves, relying on experience and
identity as well as political ideology to define their campaigns.
“I bring a blend of both legislative experience, and I’m an immigrant so
my experience as an immigrant, a person of color and as a woman,”
Torres Ray told ABC News.
She said her experience as an immigrant who arrived here “not speaking a
word of English” is the quintessential story of the American dream, and
informs her policy work, which focuses on low-income Americans and
people of color.
“I think that’s an important perspective to bring because right now, not everybody has a voice,” she said.
Kelliher told ABC News that her accomplishments as a state
representative should give voters confidence that she would be a vocal
opponent to the GOP if elected to Congress.
“It’s both experience and results – being able to stand up to someone
like Tim Pawlenty, having a number of victories and holding an
administration accountable – people really make the leap right to Donald
Trump,” she said.
Omar was not available for an interview with ABC News.
A freshman state representative, Omar has been criticized for her lack
of experience, but stresses her experience as a community leader in
multiple roles, including as an activist in the Minnesota
Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party, prior to her time as a representative.
Additionally, she has emphasized her identity as a Somali-American,
Muslim refugee – as well as her policy planks – as setting her apart
from her progressive competitors, joining a number of candidates who,
often in races facing ideologically similar opponents, argue that
legislators should look like the districts they represent.
The claim parallels an argument by Ayanna Pressley earlier this summer in an interview with ABC's Rick Klein and MaryAlice Parks on Powerhouse Politics.
“People often say that, other than my age, race and gender, we are the
same, which, on its face, I'm perplexed by that statement. Those are
three major differences, all of which have formidably shaped my
worldview,” Pressley said.
Still, while she stresses that representation and diversity are
important, Omar has made her push for economic justice the center of her
Abdulahi has also struggled to differentiate himself in a race crowded
with progressive candidates – the Somali-American activist faces a
formidable challenge, particularly in Omar, but told ABC News he
considers himself a “problem solver” facing several career politicians,
and stressed his work as an engineer in the private sector, along his
social activism, as setting him apart.
“We’re pretty similar on governance, but I think we bring different
types of leadership and experience,” he said. “Comparing between Ms.
Omar and myself, we have very similar life experience but very different
“What voters are asking for is not only platitudes wrapped around
progressive personhood, but a detailed policy, and experience,” Abdulahi
told ABC News.